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Detailed Summary of Act 4, Scene 5

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Enter Nurse:
In some stagings, the Nurse doesn't exit after the previous scene. Instead, she does a jog-trot around the stage, obeying Capulet's order to "make haste," and her first words of this scene make it sound as if she has just opened Juliet's bedroom door: "Mistress! what, mistress! Juliet!" (4.5.1)

As the Nurse approaches Juliet's bed, she carries on the jolly mood of the previous scene, calling Juliet affectionate nicknames and making a pun about what's going to happen the next time she goes to bed: "You take your pennyworths [of sleep] now; / Sleep for a week; for the next night, I warrant, / The County Paris hath set up his rest, / That you shall rest but little" (4.5.4-7). "Set up his rest," a term from a card game, means "staked a claim," and of course the reason that Juliet will "rest but little" is that her new husband will claim her time for something other than sleeping.

Hearing nothing from Juliet, the Nurse draws back the bed curtains and is amazed to see Juliet in the same clothes that she was wearing the night before. She exclaims, "What, dress'd! and in your clothes! and down again!" (4.5.12). Half-apologizing for disturbing Juliet, the Nurse says, "I must needs wake you" (4.5.13), touches her, and discovers her terrible stillness.

It's a little hard to know how to take what follows. The grief of the Nurse -- and moments later, of Lady Capulet and Capulet -- is very real, but it's hard to feel sorry for them, since Juliet's (apparent) death is largely their fault. On the other hand, although they are the ones whose attitudes have driven Juliet to this, they don't know that.

The Nurse shouts for help, laments, and calls out, "Some aqua vitae, ho!" (4.5.16); presumably, the liquor is for herself, to help her recover from the shock. Hearing the Nurse, Lady Capulet comes in, asks what's the matter, then discovers it for herself. She pleads with Juliet to return to life, saying, "Revive, look up, or I will die with thee!" (4.5.20). Then, as Lady Capulet is calling for help, Capulet enters, scolding everyone: "For shame, bring Juliet forth; her lord [i.e., Paris] is come" (4.5.22). His wife and the Nurse cry out that Juliet is dead, but for a moment he refuses to believe it, and examines her, only to find that she's cold and stiff. He says, "Death lies on her like an untimely frost / Upon the sweetest flower of all the field" (4.5.28-29), and then he feels himself begin to choke up with grief, saying, "Death, that hath ta'en her hence to make me wail, / Ties up my tongue, and will not let me speak" (4.5.31-32).

Enter Friar Laurence and Paris, with Musicians:
Now the rest of the wedding party -- the groom, the priest, and the musicians -- arrive. Friar Laurence, acting as though he has no idea of what has happened, says, "Come, is the bride ready to go to church?" (4.5.33). Capulet replies, "Ready to go, but never to return" (4.5.34). This bitter irony means that as a bride Juliet would have gone to church for the wedding and returned a wife, but as a corpse she will go to church for the funeral and then be buried. (Church yards often did double duty as graveyards, and the vault of the Capulets is in a churchyard.) Then Capulet, speaking to Paris, delivers the news of Juliet's death to the would-be groom by speaking of her as the bride of Death. He says, "O son! the night before thy wedding-day / Hath Death lain with thy wife. There she lies, / Flower as she was, deflowered by him" (4.5.35-37). To "lie" with a woman is to make love to her, and to make love to a virgin is to "deflower" her. Capulet's metaphor may seem somewhat creepy to us (and not particularly appropriate to his character), but it does foreshadow the fate of Juliet.

Capulet continues in the same vein, saying that Death will be his only son-in-law and heir. He himself will die, "And leave him [Death] all; life, living, all is Death's" (4.5.40). The response of Paris is natural, though perhaps a bit self-centered. He exclaims, "Have I thought long to see [long looked forward to] this morning's face, / And doth it give me such a sight as this?" (4.5.41-42). Lady Capulet's grief is more affecting. She says, "Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day! / Most miserable hour that e'er time saw / In lasting [ceaseless] labour of his pilgrimage!" 4.5.43-45). The idea that life is always a pilgrimage tells us that we will have "labour" -- rivers to cross and mountains to climb -- on our way to the highest shrine, heaven itself. In heaven lies a hope for the future, but in our children's lives lies another -- often very much stronger -- hope for the future, and when a child dies, that's not just another river or mountain; it's the loss of hope, the cruelest trick of fate. Lady Capulet says it better: "But one, poor one, one poor and loving child, / But one thing to rejoice and solace in, / And cruel death hath catch'd [snatched] it from my sight!" (4.5.46-48).

The Nurse's grief is very simple, just a long wail in words, beginning with "O woe! O woeful, woeful, woeful day!" (4.5.49), and ending with "O woeful day, O woeful day!" (4.5.54). With the Nurse's lamentation, the mourning starts to become chaotic. Bemoaning what death has done, Paris says, "Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spited, slain!" (4.5.55), which describes Juliet, but probably also himself. And, looking at (what he thinks is) Juliet's beautiful corpse, he exclaims, "O love! O life! not life, but love in death!" (4.5.58). In a like manner, Capulet exclaims, "O child! O child! my soul, and not my child!" (4.5.62).

Neither Paris nor Capulet can make sense of this senseless death, but Friar Laurence can. He firmly reminds them of the truth their faith should teach them: "Peace, ho, for shame! confusion's cure lives not / In these confusions. Heaven and yourself / Had part in this fair maid; now heaven hath all, / And all the better is it for the maid" (4.5.65-68). Friar Laurence uses the word "confusion" to mean both "calamity" and "senseless outcries"; he's telling them that in the face of this calamity weeping and wailing won't do any good. They need to remember that Juliet is now in heaven, which is a better place for her. In heaven Juliet will have eternal life, and that should make them happy because "The most you sought was her promotion; / For 'twas your heaven she should be advanced, / And weep ye now, seeing she is advanced / Above the clouds, as high as heaven itself?" (4.5.71-74). The "promotion" that they sought for Juliet was from maid to wife, and they thought her wedding would be heavenly happiness, so that now when she has advanced to heaven itself, they should be even happier. He admonishes them that weeping and wailing for Juliet is not a sign of true love for their daughter, because "in this love, you love your child so ill, / That you run mad, seeing that she is well" (4.5.75-76).

Friar Laurence then tells them to "Dry up your tears, and stick your rosemary / On this fair corse [corpse]; and, as the custom is, / In all her best array bear her to church" (4.5.79-81). Rosemary was a symbol of both eternal love and remembrance, and so, though it was gathered to celebrate Juliet's wedding, it can now be used for her funeral. Capulet does as Friar Laurence says, giving directions that "All things that we ordained festival, / Turn from their office [intended function] to black funeral" (4.5.84-85). Instead of wedding music they will toll bells; the wedding feast will become a funeral dinner; the bridal flowers will deck Juliet's corpse; "And, Capulet orders, "all things change them to the contrary" (4.5.90).

Friar Laurence ushers everyone away, telling them that Juliet's death is their punishment for some sin, and that they must now obey the will of the heavens. In stage tradition, Paris, Capulet, and Lady Capulet gently drop their rosemary on Juliet, and then the Nurse closes the curtains of her bed.

Exeunt Capulet, Lady Capulet, Paris, and Friar Laurence:
The Nurse is the last to leave the scene of Juliet's apparent death. As she is closing the curtains of Juliet's bed one of the musicians who had come to play at Juliet's wedding says, "Faith, we may put up our pipes, and be gone" (4.5.96). Hearing this, the Nurse says, "Honest goodfellows, ah, put up, put up; / For, well you know, this is a pitiful case" (4.5.97-98). She hurries out, and the musician makes a wry comment: "Ay, by my troth, the case may be amended" (4.5.99). This means that the case -- the situation -- could certainly be better. (We might say, "I've had better days.") The musician, may also be making a sad pun on the word "case," so that he is saying that the case for his musical instrument can be fixed, with the implication that dead Juliet can never be fixed.

The musician's comment would make an appropriate ending for this sad scene, but the scene doesn't end here. Instead, the scene ends with an extended bit of comic relief. Peter (first played by Will Kemp, the famous comic actor of Shakespeare's company) suddenly appears, with an urgent request: "Musicians, O, musicians, 'Heart's ease', Heart's ease', O, an you will have me live, play 'Heart's ease'" (4.5.102-104). The last time we saw Peter, he was carrying the Nurse's fan when she sought out Romeo to learn when Juliet should come to be married. Then, he opened his mouth only to deliver a bawdy double-entendre about his "weapon." Now he declares that if the musicians don't play an old, sad ballad called "Heart's Ease" he will just die. The First Musician (there are two other musicians, but this one does almost all the talking) asks why Peter wants that particular tune, and Peter answers, "O, musicians, because my heart itself plays 'My heart is full of woe'. O, play me some merry dump [sad song], to comfort me" (4.5.106-108).

What is this? Is Peter's heart really fully of woe? It seems unlikely, since the oxymoron "merry dump" is a gibe at our habit of playing sad music on sad occasions -- so that we will feel better. (By the way, why do we read a sad play, such as this one? Why, when the prologue tells us that the beautiful young lovers are going to die, don't we just close the book?) So, if Peter's heart isn't really full of woe, he's making fun of the musicians, and he proceeds with more of the same in the rest of the scene.

When First Musician says that they won't play, Peter punningly threatens him: "I will then give it you soundly" (4.5.112), and when asked what he will give them, he replies, "No money, on my faith, but the gleek; I will give you the minstrel" (4.5.114-115). A "gleek" is a gibe, and minstrels were wandering musicians who were reputed to be thieves and cheats. Peter is saying that he will insult the musician, and then does insult him by calling him a "minstrel." The First Musician responds in kind: "Then I will give you the serving-creature" (4.5.116). In other words, "If you're going to call me a "minstrel, I'll call you a lowly servant." Then, heating up the comic battle in a comic way, Peter makes another threat: "Then will I lay the serving-creature's dagger on your pate. I will carry no crotchets: I'll re you, I'll fa you; do you note me?" (4.5.117-119). The threat to "lay the . . . dagger" on the musician's head ("pate") is a threat to dry-beat him. A dry-beating was administered to someone unworthy of a fair fight, and it was done with the flat of a dagger or sword, so that no blood was drawn (otherwise it would be wet, not dry). The phrase "carry no crotchets" means "put up with no bad attitudes," with puns on "carry," as meaning "sing," and "crotchets," as meaning "quarternotes." There is more punning in "I'll re you, I'll fa you," as the word "ray" meant "befoul" and "fay" meant "clean up"; the puns imply that Peter will mop the deck with the musician. And of course "do you note me," meaning "do you understand me," puns on the musical meaning of "note."

First Musician puns away Peter's punning threat, saying, "An [if] you re us and fa us, you note us" (4.5.120), which means "if you really re us and fa us, you'll be singing to us." Now Second Musician pipes up (pun intended), with a request to Peter: "Pray you, put up your dagger, and put out your wit" (4.5.121). Maybe Peter has been waving his dagger around, maybe not, but at least we know that Second Musician wants to hear more of Peter's word-play. Peter complies with this request by posing a riddle. He quotes from, from a song praising the power of music, "'When griping [gripping, oppressive] grief the heart doth wound, / And doleful dumps [blues, depression] the mind oppress, / Then music with her silver sound'" (4.5.126-128), then asks each musician why music's sound is "silver."

(Just for fun Peter gives each musician a humorously musical name -- "Simon Catling," "Hugh Rebeck," and "James Soundpost." A catling is a small lutestring, made of catgut; a rebeck is a three-stringed fiddle; and a soundpost supports the sounding board of a stringed instrument.)

First Musician offers the obvious answer to Peter's riddle: "Marry, sir, because silver hath a sweet sound" (4.5.131). Peter tells him that he made a good try, then turns to Second Musician, who has a witty answer to the question: "I say 'silver sound,' because musicians sound for silver" (4.5.135). Peter praises him, then asks what Third Musician has to say. Third Musician, who is the singer of the group, can't think of a thing, and Peter begs his pardon -- apparently the joke is that singers can only sing, not talk or think. Peter then delivers his own answer to his own question: "It is 'music with her silver sound', because musicians have no gold for sounding" (4.5.140-141). After delivering this rather lame punchline, Peter exits, singing the line that he quoted and the next one: "'Then music with her silver sound / With speedy help doth lend redress'." (4.5.142-143).

The song says music lifts us out of sadness and depression, but what has lifted the musicians out of sadness and depression is Peter's mockery. Juliet's bed is still in view, but the musicians are in a better mood. First Musician exclaims, "What a pestilent knave is this same!" (4.5.144), and Second Musician responds, "Hang him, Jack! Come, we'll in here; tarry for the mourners, and stay [wait for] dinner" (4.5.145-146). There's no one present named "Jack," and no one is going to hang. Peter has provided a distraction from all the grief about Juliet's death, and now the musicians have -- in our imaginations -- found a place in Capulet's house where they can wait until the mourners come back from church, when lunch ("dinner") will be served.

Life goes on, and someone pulls Juliet's bed out of sight.